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CNN Doubles Down on a Mix of Live News, Original Series and Films

photoCNN wants viewers to “go there.” And for CNN, “there” is everywhere.

The network announced today it is going to continue pushing the boundaries of traditional cable news by launching more exploratory programs weeknights at 9pmET hosted by proven TV talent: Mike Rowe, John Walsh and Lisa Ling, among them.

“What we did over the course of the last year was test that out,” CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker told TVNewser in an interview after his upfront presentation. He touted shows hosted by Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock, paired with documentaries like “Blackfish,” and “Chicagoland,” which complemented CNN’s breaking news coverage. “We were able to test out our ability to do both at the same time and that’s how we feel that it all works together,” Zucker says.

“As you see, none of this is about prison lockups,” Zucker joked, taking a jab at MSNBC’s popular “Lockup” franchise.

“Nobody should ever be confused about our commitment to live breaking news when it happens, as witnessed by the last six weeks,” Zucker said, refering to the network’s coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Zucker acknowledged a drop in live ratings when coverage of a breaking story stops, and a documentary begins. “Frankly, at the end of the day, we get paid on the DVR playback,” he says. Still, he vowed to pre-empt the new 9pm block when big news breaks.

We asked several CNN anchors what they thought of the new primetime lineup, “I think it’s cool,” Anderson Cooper told us. “There’s a lot of different ways to tell a story. To me, the storytelling makes sense the way it’s going to work.”

“I think there’s a viewership, people who want that kind of storytelling,” adds Wolf Blitzer. “I think we’ll still be devoted to my specialty, which is live breaking news, political news, international news, but there’s certainly an audience for the films and original series,” Blitzer says, predicting it will bring a whole new audience to CNN.

Erin Burnett, whose show remains at 7pmET, tells us the change helps separate CNN from the cable competition: “Obviously, CNN is fantastic on politics, because it is unbiased. But we do so many other things,” Burnett says, adding, “I think it really just brings people into the brand, that naturally should be there, and weren’t there in as many numbers as we would have wanted them to be there.”

“I’m here because of Jeff Zucker,” John Walsh told us. Walsh will be a part of the 9pm rotation hosting “The Hunt.” This time, Walsh goes beyond searching for America’s Most Wanted on a hunt for fugitives involved in international criminal investigations.

“Fox News last year made $900 million to a certain audience; to a certain demographic: old, white, baby boomers like me,” Walsh continued. He says his show on CNN will go “outside the box” in an attempt to draw younger viewers.

In addition to a primetime revamp, CNN announced new digital platforms, primarily CNNx: a smart TV, iPad, and mobile companion technology that gives users the ability to customize their own rundown while watching CNN. LostRemote has more on CNNx.

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